Monday, August 27, 2018

Beyond Protection: Perceived Threat, Criminalization, and Self-Defense

Jay O'Shea
photo credit: Calvin Alagot
It seemed innocent enough. My daughter and I were stopping by the credit union on our way home from the pool. It was after closing but a few employees remained in the parking lot. 

As I approached the cash machine, another person walked up from the opposite side, a few paces before us. A slim, white woman whose expensive casual wear and designer sunglasses marked her as one of our Westside neighborhood’s more affluent residents, she turned and looked at me instead of giving her attention to the ATM. I offered a smile, acknowledging that she had reached the cash machine first and had dibs on it. When she returned my smile with a scowl, I expected the snappish disdain that well-off women in West LA so commonly project toward other women, but not the question she asked.

“Can you come back?” she said.

“Excuse me?” I asked, assuming she meant “Can you step back?” That seemed peculiar since I stood a good six feet away from her but I would have been willing to accommodate the request.

“I need to make a deposit,” she said.

“Go ahead,” I said. “You were here first.”

“I said I need to make a deposit. So you need to go and come back later.”

“What?” Incredulous, I struggled for words. Finally, it kicked in and I understood what she was asking, or rather demanding, of me.

“No,” I added.

“You know what?” she said. “Forget about it. OK, just forget it. I guess I’ll have to wait.”

She stormed past.

Grateful for my IMPACT (and other empowerment self-defense training), I turned to my eight-year-old daughter and said loudly, “OK, so this woman is looking for a confrontation and wants it to be someone else’s fault. She may be dangerous and we need to be prepared.” I knew that wasn’t it, not exactly, but I wanted to deflect her implied accusation and make sure any bystanders knew she was the threat, not I.

Huffing, crossing and uncrossing her arms, and making a show of endorsing her check at distance of twenty yards from me, she pulled out her phone and stood watching as I deposited my own check.

Perhaps my tank top and skate shorts marked me, in her eyes, as poor. Maybe my baseball cap and visible deltoids read as masculine. Or my dark hair, short, muscular stature, and my daughter’s brown skin rendered us ethnically ambiguous in a city whose largest “minority” is multi-racial. Whatever it was, it suggested to her that I was a self-evident threat. In a weird leap of logic, my position as threatening and socially inferior meant that it was my obligation to defer my errand in order to protect her safety. Anything less than complete capitulation confirmed my status as dangerous.

I had recently attended a women’s self-defense conference where speakers pointed out that white women’s ostensible right to protection exposes others, usually men of color, to violence. People of various backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses (people of color, working class people, the poor) have historically been seen as a self-evident threat to elite white women. In the interest of protecting these women, white men inflict violence on marginalized people, who are rendered vulnerable precisely because they are seen as dangerous. Fear and entitlement come together to create violence.

Middle- and upper-class white women play into this system when they come to expect protection, and come to associate people who seem different with threat. Someone who lives at the intersection of different identities from my own (in terms of race, immigration status, or gender expression) could have faced far graver consequences than the social aggression I encountered at the ATM. The criminalization of the poor, people of color, and those whose appearance or behavior seems non-normative ultimately serves the needs not of women, white or otherwise, but of a racist patriarchal system. Criminalization endangers the lives and the safety of ordinary people and deprives the innocent of their freedom. Criminalization is as much a threat to justice and equality as other forms of violence.  

This woman’s actions can’t be, of course, considered effective self-defense. She missed clues that might have signaled my true intentions: do muggers often bring their children with them to an attack? Do they usually have their wallets out and checks in hand? She was responding to a narrative she created – that the person behind her in line showed up just to attack her – rather than the actual circumstances: that more than one person had a check to deposit at an ATM in a major city just after the close of business hours. Worse, in her suspicion, she provoked a confrontation where none needed to happen.

Even so, the flip side of acknowledging that we are responsible for our own safety is realizing that we are responsible for how we interact with others. Just as women need to let go of a desire to displace responsibility onto someone else, we also are accountable to how we demand safety. We are accountable to the social violence that continues in the associations of criminality with difference. We do not have the right to criminalize the ordinary actions of those who appear different from us in the interest of safety.

As self-defense practitioners and advocates we need to make explicit the difference between safety and protection, between boundary setting and criminalization, between intuition and stereotyping. We need to remind ourselves, our students, and others that we are responsible for the conclusions we come to, for the narratives we create in our minds, and the actions we take in response.

Jay O'Shea
Author, martial artist, and empowerment self-defense instructor, Jay (Janet) O’Shea is the author of Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts TrainingRecipient of a UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant to study the cognitive benefits of Filipino Martial Arts training, she gave a TEDx Talk on competitive play. She is Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

Monday, August 20, 2018

If Your Partner is A Survivor

In "So Your Partner is a Survivor--Seven Ways to Be Supportive," Kaylee Wolfe reflects on ways to be supportive to a partner who is a survivor.

  • Give your partner space to tell their story.
  • Believe your partner.
  • You are a supporter, not a "savior."
  • They are still the same person they were before they told you their story.
  • Consider asking about triggers and how you can help.
  • Avoid taking things personally that are really about your partner's trauma
  • Remember healing can be lifelong and non-linear
For Wolfe's thoughtful details, check out the full article in The Portland Phoenix here.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thanks to All Who Made it Possible to Equip and Train Two New Suited Instructors

New suited instructor AC (in white) & longtime instructors Nat &  Rob
Thank you to everyone who helped us raise funds to equip & train two new suited instructors. 
AC (in the white above) is the first new IMPACT Chicago suited instructor in over a decade. He has completed the co-teaching phase and will begin his supervised phase in August. Now that we can cover the expenses for his equipment and training, we can start the search for a second new suited instructor. Thank you!

Why did people donate? Here are some of the things people said:
  • Thank you for all you do! Alexandra
  • Way to go IMPACT for so many years of high quality, powerful training! Anonymous
  • Worthy Cause. Thank you for your work. Anonymous
  • Took this class years ago; glad to see it is still around. Athena
  • Woohoo! Great cause! Debbie
  • Keep up the good work! Dominic
  • Took the class almost 30 years ago, carry it with me every day, tell people about it all the time. Dori
  • Here's to your success!! Elizabeth
  • Sending our love (and $) to IMPACT Chicago from the "Beauty Bites Beast" team! Ellen
  • Impact changed my life. I want to help others benefit from Impact. Janet
  • I took an IMPACT class in 1998 and it changed my life. I saw that I was strong and worth defending. The compassion and expertise of the suited instructors were instrumental in that transformation for me. Kellie
  • Supporting IMPACT Chicago and, by extension, empowering women? Sounds good to me! Ken
  • Thank you for ALL that you are doing to empower women. Best of luck! Kevin
  • Thanks for providing such a great service. Kimberly
  • This is so important. thank you and much love from Slovenia. Martina
  • Love your guys. Michelle
  • It's an honor to support the wonderful work of IMPACT Chicago. Nancy and Sarah
  • Great organization! Noreen
  • Keep up the good work! Pamela
  • Thank you for this opportunity to contribute to this life changing and inspiring organization. The skills I have learned lives on in my life every day and spreads as I share my story and experience with others. I appreciate you all very much. Patti
  • Proud to support such a great organization! Rachel
  • Continue the great work! Sandria
  • IMPACT changes lives. Thank you for all that you do. One day "no" will be enough, until then there is IMPACT. Shelley
  • I tell EVERYONE about IMPACT. Attending the February Core Program was so inspiring and truly life changing. Thank you for all you do. Suzanne
 It is not too late to donate! 
You can donate via CauseVox 
OR send a check to IMPACT Chicago, 4057 N. Damen Chicago IL 60618
Thank you!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Your Voice Has Power

Be alert. Walk during the day instead of at night. If you see something, say something. All things women are often told to help keep us safe. But what happens when you’ve done the “right” things and your safety is still threatened?

I hadn’t expected to put my IMPACT training to use so soon, but I’m thankful the training prepared me to handle the unexpected and bolstered my confidence to use my voice as a powerful tool to fight back.

One week after completing the June 2018 Core Program, I was walking to the bus stop about 8:30 in the morning. A few blocks into my walk I wanted to take a selfie (to document my exercise). I lift my phone up and rotate the camera and see this man walking behind me. I make a mental note. I see a woman and little girl walking toward me and so I smile and say hi. The woman says something about it being so hot when she passes so I turn around to laugh and agree. I make sure to look at the man so he knows I see him. I slowed down my pace just to see if he would ever pass me. He doesn’t. He’s following me.

A few moments after reaching the bus stop, I notice the man is standing on the opposite corner, watching me. I turn away and look for the bus. I glance back over and he’s still standing there watching me, but then I hold my gaze and notice he has his penis out stroking himself. Broad daylight, busy intersection. I’ve never experienced this, but have heard many stories; stories of men exposing themselves on trains and buses, or in grocery stores. Like other women I know, no one ever really prepared me how to respond to something like this.
A different version of me - the pre-Impact training, less aware of my badassery version of me -  likely would have turned away, ignoring this bold creep and waited for the bus. Or, walked to the Walgreens on the next corner and walked around buying time until he hopefully left. But not this day. This is not ok. I pull my phone up and take his picture. He sees me taking his picture of course, puts his junk away and starts walking across the street toward me. He’s talking loud like I did something wrong to him and I get loud back. “Don’t walk over here!” I yelled to him, but he continues to advance toward me.  
He’s standing across from me, inches from my face, yelling, “Oh you don’t know me? You don’t know me?” Me: “No, I DON’T know you!” I’m loud enough to hopefully get the attention of another man walking up the block with a big dog. My thought is surely this big dog will get this man to leave. The man with the dog doesn’t say anything. He turns the corner and keeps walking.
Then, I hear a voice behind me on the other side of a gate. “Are you okay?” I tell the unseen bystander, “No I’m not, this dude just exposed himself to me!” The man behind the gate stepped in and I was able to leave the situation unharmed.
I was proud of myself for speaking up. It felt like a victory. But, it wasn’t enough. I kept thinking about other girls and women this young man will encounter. I probably wasn’t the first woman he’d exposed himself to. I may not be the last. I don’t want us to experience this. It doesn’t matter that he was across the street and didn’t put hands on me. He shouldn’t feel so comfortable to expose himself and intimidate me right on the street in a busy area. What would he do at night?
I decided to file a report with the police. According to the Illinois General Assembly, public indecency is a Class A misdemeanor. If committed on or within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school grounds when children are present it becomes a Class 4 felony. It is a crime. However, as was my case, it is often not treated with the seriousness of more “major crimes” like homicide or rape. I was nearly laughed out of the police station and left feeling more angry and frustrated than fearful.
I put all of that energy into sharing my story on Facebook to alert my friends and also on my neighborhood’s listserv to alert the community. This may not be major to police, but so many women and girls have experienced something similar. This is major to us.
To my surprise, a detective contacted me two weeks later and the Chicago Police Department issued an official Community Alert that same day. The Alert was picked up and shared on local news and in my Alderman’s newsletter.

I saw something. I said something. And I kept saying it until I was heard. I’m thankful for IMPACT’s reminder that my voice is powerful enough to make change.
Sandria, June 2018 IMPACT Chicago Graduate

Encourage women in your life to register for the Core Program
Sandria used her powerful voice to defend herself. She continued to use her powerful voice to create a safer community for others. Encourage someone you know to register for an upcoming IMPACT Chicago Core Program.

Support IMPACT 
Help ensure that more women have the opportunity to take IMPACT training If you believe in the work that IMPACT is doing and want us to be able to continue, this is your moment. Please donate what you can today.